Boost your mood with happy scents

Martha Roberts suggests ways to road-test research to make us feel good


Boost your mood with happy scents

The project

When it comes to our senses, smell reigns supreme. But is what we sniff powerful enough to boost our mood?

The aim

Seeking out the right smells could make you a happier person.

The theory

Scientists have found that smelling the ‘right’ aromas can enhance how we feel. For example, we know lavender can help reduce stress, while researchers at Wheeling Jesuit University in the States have discovered that the smell of peppermint boosts mood.

Aromas also affect our kindness levels. A study from the University of Southern Brittany* found the smell of baking bread made people kinder to strangers. When volunteers outside a bakery dropped a personal item, 77 per cent of strangers stopped to help, compared with just 52 per cent outside a clothes shop.

We also convey happiness through our own aromas. Scientists at the Utrecht University found that through a process of ‘chemosignalling’, people can become ‘emotionally synchronised’**. Researchers collected the armpit sweat on pads, of participants in happy, fearful and neutral states while they watched film clips. The pads were then sniffed by ‘receivers’ whose facial muscle activity was measured. Researchers found exposure to the ‘happy’ pad elicited a happier facial expression than the fearful or neutral pads, and said the study showed that ‘a positive state can be transferred by means of odours.’

Now try it out

  • Fall asleep to sweet smells. In a German study, volunteers had the smell of roses or rotten eggs wafted under their noses during their REM (dream) sleep. It was found that the ‘emotional tone’ of their dreams was more positive when they’d smelled the flowers.
  • Change your sheets. 2015 research by Bupa found that ‘sleeping in a freshly made bed’ came top of the list of 50 things that make us happy.
  • Fill your kitchen with happy smells. The Bupa survey also found the aromas of freshly made bread, bacon sandwiches and fine wine made people happy. A 2014 study† found that the strawberry is the ‘happiest fruit’ – 86 per cent of us feel more relaxed by thinking about eating one.
  • Collate a positive smell ‘library’. Studies show a massive 75 per cent of emotions are triggered by smell. For example, research has shown that 85 per cent of people remembered their childhood when they caught the smell of crayons. Gather some memorable scents of your own and sniff them when you need a boost.

MARTHA ROBERTS is an award-winning UK health writer and mental health blogger at

*Journal of Social Psychology, 2012; **Psychological Science, 2014; †University of London Centre for the Study of the Senses, 2014

Photograph: Istock

More inspiration:

Read Get happy from the outside in on Lifelabs

Create a life you loveSubscribe for under £20

Subscribe today and save up to £26 on your first 6 issues of Psychologies!